Sobering news for the plight of our mammals

Paul Sawer

Our Head of Conservation, Ben McFarland, examines the plight of UK mammals and how we’re working to support species under threat in Suffolk

In July the Mammal Society produced a report on behalf of Natural England, looking into the populations of all of our native mammal species. They used the very best evidence we have and drew on numerous bodies of research. The result is sobering, on a national scale at least. Out of 47 mammals for which we have enough data, 11 of them are at risk of extinction.  

Now, we often think of extinctions as happening somewhere else, mammals bordering on the abyss caused by deforestation, pollution or poaching. They roll off the tongue like someone else’s bad school report: Sumatran tiger, white rhino, Chinese river dolphin. But here in England? Surely not! I’m afraid, yes, and not only that, but it is the species which are now listed as endangered or vulnerable to extinction that are perhaps the most startling. Dormouse, water vole, hedgehog. Hedgehog?! Yes, hedgehog. Hedgehog are now officially classified as endangered in the UK. Now clearly there are still hedgehog pottering around our gardens and countryside, but it is the rate of decline that is so alarming, a rate surpassed perhaps only by water vole, which has seen a 95% decline in recent years. 

Hedgehog - Tom Marshall

Hedgehog - Tom Marshall 

At a county level it is of course harder to precisely understand trends because the amount of data available are smaller, but we are fairly clear that hazel dormouse are declining. In fact, since our very own Simone Bullion wrote ‘The Mammals of Suffolk’ in 2009, long term monitoring of populations indicates that dormouse, already rare, have in some cases declined even further. The causes are complex, but a loss of connectivity across the landscape, the ability of populations to intermingle, is much reduced. Wherever you get isolated populations, it is harder for them to survive in the longer term. That is why we are working hard in our coppice woodland reserves, the ideal habitat for dormouse and thankfully the results are paying off. There are good signs at Bradfield Woods that the populations are stable, bucking the national trend.  

We are also extending our farmland advice, through our Farmland Advisor, Sam Hanks, as well as our fantastic volunteer advisors, helping wildlife friendly farmers and landowners with their hedgerow management. This is crucial work to help support dormouse populations in the future and as an ‘umbrella species’ this means we will be getting it right for other wildlife, too. 

Dormouse - Ian Pratt

Dormouse - Ian Pratt 

Water vole are much loved and rightly so, but they have experienced years of decline in habitat quality and then been decimated by predation from non-native American mink. Unlike our other native mammal predators, mink is both a good swimmer and can fit neatly down a water vole burrow. If left unchecked, American mink can wipe out an entire water vole population in a river catchment very quickly. That is why, through our River Advisors, Penny Hemphill and Alice Wickman, we are working hard with many landowners on rivers in Suffolk, to help them remove mink and improve water vole habitat. We have also recently created a huge amount of new water vole habitat at Carlton Marshes, miles of new ditches and pools. Over the next few years, we are confident our hard work on reserves and with others will really help water vole recovery. 

Water vole - Russell Savory 

But what of the hedgehog? Many of you will be aware of the long running Ipswich project, where Ali North and then Lucy Shepherd has worked tirelessly with local communities to help them improve their gardens for hedgehogs and other species. This has made a real difference to hedgehogs in the town. Based on this success, over the next few years, we are looking to expand this work to other towns and communities. 

It’s easy to get rather depressed about wildlife decline and the recent report on mammals hardly improves my optimism at first glance. However, the good news is that, for mammals especially, we largely know what the problems are and therefore we have a good idea on the solutions. I know here at Suffolk Wildlife Trust, we are making a real on-the-ground difference.  Through your support, we can continue and expand our work, helping our dormice, water voles, hedgehogs and of course, all the other species that benefit, too.  

You can take action and help wildlife at home and in your local community. We also need more data to help us in our work, so if you have seen a hedgehog where you live, please let us know.

Take action and help wildlife at home 

Log your hog sighting here